Chicago Bulls measure themselves against the best one last time

Chicago Bulls measure themselves against the best one last time

The Bulls aren't likely to finish the season on a ten game win streak after facing Portland tonight, but they will be solid favorites against at least eight of the the ten opponents left and probably pushes (at worst) against Minnesota and Washington on the road. Tonight marks their final test against one of the best teams in the league as the Bulls host the Portland Trailblazers.

Don't be fooled by the Blazers slump

Someone is sure to point out that the Blazers have lost eight of their last 12 games, however, the stretch is someone misleading because LaMarcus Aldridge sat out seven of those 12 games, and the losses they had while he played were road games against Dallas, Houston, Memphis, and San Antonio.

That's not to say the Blazers are kicking ass and taking names, but Aldridge will be back against the Bulls, and their losses were road losses to other elite teams or games where their best player sat out. Aldridge returned last night against Atlanta to score 25 points and grab 16 boards in 32 minutes.

The Blazers are in a fairly desperate situation after their recent nose dive. They're presently fifth in the West, but just 2.5 games ahead of Dallas who sits in ninth. They're fighting for both home court advantage in the first round and to even make the playoffs at all. They'll be coming out hard.

What is Chicago fighting for?

The Bulls will keep fighting to win every game possible, because, well, they're the Bulls. It's what they do.

As a sports fan you love that.

However, Chicago's situation isn't so dire. One could argue that the Bulls would be better suited to 4th place than 3rd in the East anyway. Indiana looks like a team the Bulls would actually stand a chance at defeating if they were matched up in round two.

That said, Brooklyn seems like a much tougher first round match up than Washington, and Chicago's no lock to get past the Nets. That series is a 50/50 at best for Chicago, and I'd wager many vegas odds makers will put their money on the Nets.

Getting the three seed for Chicago is mostly about avoiding Brooklyn. Of course, Indiana's also no lock for the #1 seed just yet, but Miami has never pushed hard for seeding in the big three era and tends to always fade down the stretch of the regular season before putting it into playoff gear.

Seriously, can we start Taj Gibson already?

Honestly, if I had one key to the game, it'd be, bring Carlos Boozer off the bench. However, we already know that isn't happening.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the focus of the Blazers offense, and I'd rather have Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah both on the floor while Aldridge is so that the Bulls can play some semblance of defense against him.

The Bulls will hopefully stick Noah on him initially rather than Boozer, but that then leaves the Bulls without any help defense in the middle when Aldridge is hanging out on the perimeter which he's likely to do for the majority of the possessions. If Chicago could match up with Taj on him right away things would go a bit better.

I'd say there's a good chance the Bulls get killed in the first and third quarters due to this, so the best we can hope for is some early foul trouble for Boozer or a quick hook.

Beyond the problems covering Aldridge, the Bulls also frequently struggle with quick point guards and tend to get eaten up by quickness more so than size in terms of perimeter players. Kirk Hinrich's craftiness tends to work a lot better on guys who are bigger than him where the grabbing, pulling, and bumping isn't quite so noticeable and when he's less likely to get blown up by sheer athleticism.

Chicago will need to find a strategy to deal with Damien Lillard and which really gets back to keeping Taj/Noah on the floor as much as possible so that when one guy is D'ing up Aldridge there's still an elite help defender at the basket.

If the Bulls can find a way to contain Lillard and Aldridge then the only other step on defense will be to adequately defend the three point line.

The Bulls offense will likely come down to the same things it always does. Will guys hit shots? The Bulls don't really have a great leg to stand on when it comes to generating efficient offense. They're unselfish, they move/share the ball frequently, and they hope with all the passing that eventually good looks materialize.

They typically do, but those good looks are also typically threes, and the Bulls still don't have much in terms of quality or consistency from beyond the arc. Hinrich, Augustin, and Dunleavy are the most reliable and are at least all decent from beyond the arc, but if they get a decent shooting night out of Butler or Snell then it can really turn things.

I'm still a proponent of seeing what Jimmer Fredette can do, especially relative to Snell, but maybe his play in practice is so unconvincing that we're better off not seeing what Jimmer can do.

In Thibodeau's mind, he's probably competing with Augustin for minutes, and while D.J. has come back down to Earth some, I still trust him quite a bit more than Fredette. That said, Tony Snell hasn't done much of anything for Chicago this season, so I'd like to see Chicago go for more offense/ball handling/shooting with Fredette rather than more defense with Snell and see how it goes for a few minutes each night.

I'm hoping Chicago experiments with this look down the stretch when the opponents get easier, and the Bulls really have little to play for anyway.

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  • I'm afraid Aldridge will do too much damage when guarded by Boozer that it might not matter too much if Taj would be put on him later on. Hopefully, Lilliard, Matthews, and Batum can be contained enough to give the bulls a puncher's chance in this game. The Bulls might want to double team Aldridge but even that might be too risky because the Blazers have too many good shooters.

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    In reply to Tamaraw:

    I don't know what Portland's win/loss record is against the Bulls, but by using the eye test they seem to do pretty well against us. I guess it's just matchups or they know how to counter Thibs defensive schemes. Whatever it is I'm glad the Bulls only play them twice a year.

  • Doug mentioned in his game planning for Portland the importance of defending the three point line. Seems apropos as Portland leads the NBA in three point attempts. The old pundits cliche: "you live by the three, you die by the three." Really?? Some Champions may beg to differ..

    Of course with the Bulls poorly ranked offense when it comes to over reliance on three pointers there's no worries. Chicago is ranked 28th in attempts and 25th in percentage.

    Just for kicks I checked the last seven NBA Champions and runner-up's going back to 2007. Of those winners and Finalists, over 75% were in the top eleven in either three point attempts or percentage and often in both and higher then 10th.

    Then there's the Bulls. Going back to the same time 2007 nearly every year Chicago was in the bottom third in both three point attempts and percentage. Most of the 75% of the winners had four or more staple guys who shoot the bulk of their team's threes. One or two guys drafted and the others shrewd imports.

    OK so the Bulls have Jimmy Butler who occupies space on the floor for a Thibsian 38 mpg on .284 from three. Luol Deng the great all-star(actually a nice player for much of his career with one big flaw) occupied 37 mpg on .274 three point shooting. It's just hard to see some of these guys as viable when they take up so many valuable opportunity minutes with nearly three attempts per game for Lu and over three for Jimmy in such futility.

    Of course the yearly roster turn-style sent out Marco Belinelli who shot a respectable 35% from downtown while this year, his second in a stable, winning environment is only shooting .437 on 3.5 apg. And Chicago media's Menace to Society Nate Robinson all he shot was .405 on over 4apg(attempts per game) in only 25 value minutes on the floor nightly. Man I wish they would have kept him.

    Of course you can say D.J. and Dunleavy are shooting threes just as well or better. So you could say it's more the core players who are lacking. Bottom line: if the Bulls are going to be successful long term they need core guys who can shoot threes be it through drafting or more shrewd pick ups such as Marco, Nate, and yes you can say Dunleavy and D.J..

    If you buy the three as a necessity and a failing of Bulls rosters past, then you probably need to draft some guys who can shoot threes at least a core guy you are targeting as a scorer. That probably leaves a guy like T.J. Warren off that list. We'll see if this aspect enters into Gar/Pax's draft equation. Personally, if it turns out a guy like Florida's Michael Frazier is rated as at minimum solid/acceptable defender then he might be an option worth considering at 19 if he comes out/is available. And at 16ish the Charlotte pick again if you are targeting a scorer which we all know the Bulls need, then you better pick somebody with a resume for capable three point shooting.

    This draft is loaded with highly credentialed three point shooters like I've never seen since I've taken up the draft as a hobby. Guys like Joseph Young, Frazier, Rodney Hood, and Jordan Adams(a little less proven), high volume, efficient three point shooters who are viable in many aspects, there out there. Course it all depends if guys like Frazier and Young come out. Should be interesting come late June.

  • In reply to RoadWarrior:

    Young is an interesting player, I saw him play a few times this year and he can really score. He lit it up against Wisconsin in the tourney last weekend. Good shooter and quick, I just think he's a little smallish maybe.

    I really like Stauskas as a fit for the Bulls, he's 6'6 and can shoot from anywhere.

    Would you try for a shooter and a backup big man when it looks like we have 2 picks coming somewhere between 12 and 20 in the first round? Maybe two shooters? I wholeheartedly agree with everybody on here saying the Bulls need more outside shooting, so can't go wrong there. A cheap option to backup at the 4 or 5 spot would help too.

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    In reply to RoadWarrior:

    Snell is a 3pt shooter, so is Jimmer, DJ can shoot the 3 too. I don't see the need to draft a guy that can only shoot from the outside especially if Mirotic comes over. If Adreian Payne is still available @16th draft him and w/ the #19th pick I love Kyle Anderson. He's a triple-double candidate and those are rare in the NBA. Others I'd consider are TJ Warren, KJ McDaniel, Clint Capela, Elfrid Payton, and Deonte Burton.

  • Besides all the problems you already mentioned with boozer starting, you didn't mention that he got annihilated by Robin Lopez(acquired for a bunch of 2nd round picks) last time we played them, just like he does against any even remotely semi-legitimate bigman.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    What you guys don't give Boozer credit for is that no one does better "fake help" than Boozer. I hope Noah goes out to guard Aldridge so I can watch Booze do his "fake help" move where he arrives in the paint, yelling and flailing his arms, always just a little too late to actually help. Few NBA players have ever done this move as skillfully as Boozer, and there are only a few games left where we get to watch him do it as a Bull.

    :)

  • In reply to Roman F:

    You forgot to mention the part where he reaches out a pushes the guy just as he is laying the ball in and screams out "and 1"

  • speaking of bigmen, from Grantlands Zack Lowe

    "Gorgui Dieng has been a revelation lately, and if he truly emerges as a reliable two-way big, that opens up interesting trade possibilities".

    I hate to root against the guy, but after the Bulls passed on drafting him, I was kind of hoping we'd never hear about him again.

    It certainly wouldn't have sucked to have Noah's backup locked up on a cheap rookie deal, or running out a bigman rotation next season of Noah, Mirotic, Taj and Dieng. Can't we just trick the wolves into trading him to us for the BozoHole.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    from Lowe again,

    7. The Fall of Carlos Boozer

    Boozer’s contract and defensive ineptitude have sometimes unfairly overshadowed the value he has brought to a punchless Chicago offense — efficient post play that draws double-teams, shot-making, a facsimile of spacing, and underrated passing.

    But it’s all falling apart now, and he barely plays in the fourth quarter. Boozer is shooting just 44.6 percent, by far a career low, and his ability to draw help and pass out of it has suffered as a result. Taj Gibson is probably a better post player at this point. This version of Boozer just isn’t a very helpful NBA player, and Chicago should amnesty him if Jerry Reinsdorf is willing to swallow the financial hit.

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    In reply to BigWay:

    I must say that Booze is really a class act. If I had to read about being amnestied everyday for the whole season, watch my mins diminish in the 4th qtr, and go through a messy divorce with my wife for a 2nd time, I'd snap on someone. He's a better man than me. His veteran leadership will also be missed next year. He is always giving praise to his teammates during interviews, and is a vocal leader on the court.

  • In reply to Michael Cunningham:

    I would say that he is an enormous phony, who disrespects his teammates each and every day with his total lack of effort on the court and most likely everywhere else in his life. It is also likely that if he was such a class act he wouldn't be going through a messy divorce for the 2nd time(Would you bet your life that infidelity isn't part of the mess).

    We have plenty of leadership on this team, guys who lead by doing, not by screaming like an insane primate and spouting trite cliches all day long to reporters.

    Ask every great coach what they do when they first get to a team, and they all say they go to the best player and make it clear to him that he has lead the team by being the teams hardest worker. That is leadership, not being a loudmouth phony.

    I suppose that you can still be a decent human being and simultaneously be a lazy bum at work, but that doesn't seem likely and certainly doesn't fit my description of a true class act.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Its borderline depressing seeing my top two players that I would have liked the Bulls to draft last year, Dieng and Hardaway, both looking like legitimate NBA players this early in their respective careers.

    On the bright side, this upcoming draft seems to have many many more players that look to be viable NBA options than this past year.

  • Watching two possible future Bulls draft picks in the same game.

    Willie Cauley-Stein and Montrezl Harrell, both seem like typical bulls players and will be mid to late first round picks...

  • In reply to Seattle Bulls Fan:

    In my never ending search to find a backup for Noah, Cauley-Stein is the leader in the clubhouse, at least as someone who could be available when the Bulls pick. Love to get our hands on another Noah(as in Vonleh) but he'll be long gone and doesn't really fit a need as a power forward

  • Looked like crap against Portland as usual, 3 point shooting killed us again, well, that and having no offensive talent.

    I guess that means we will be lucky to get out of the first round now, and if we do, we're done in 5 games against either Miami or Indy.

    Of course, we now have 10 "winnable" games left in the regular season to get everyone over hyped about our chances in the playoffs.

  • Still don't know why the Pelli's traded Robin Lopez, especially for nothing more than a couple of 2nd round picks. I thought it was a great pick up for the Blazers at that time, and everytime I see him play against us, I get pissed that the Bulls didn't look into acquiring him for a couple of second round picks. I guess that the Bulls couldn't afford his contract, ($5 million plus) I think, and I suppose that he would rather have gone to Portland where he could start.

    Anyway, just another lament about our missing 4rth bigman, which becomes even more painful every time that I see Nazr step on the court.

  • Here's one of those rumors that means virtually nothing but sounds good to Bulls fans anyway.

    "A source familiar with Love’s thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it’s not just L.A. that is appealing to Love; he’s enamored with the idea of being “big time in a big city,” and that list of potential places he’d seek includes New York and Chicago, as well."

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